Sport World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen and Elfyn Evans faced a challenging second day of competition at Rally Australia, but both Ford Fiesta RS WRC drivers remain on course for a solid result in fourth and ninth places respectively.
Hirvonen may have lucked out in the intense battle for the lead, but the determined Finn won’t be giving up on a solid finish this weekend. Pleased with his driving through the morning loop, the M-Sport man put in a highly consistent performance but was disadvantaged having taken a competitive risk for the afternoon.
With a high chance of heavy rain predicted in the vicinity of the stages, the number five Fiesta RS WRC was clad with five of Michelin’s LTX Force soft compound tyres. But as the downfall failed to materialise, Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen had to contend with extreme tyre wear for the unexpected dry and dusty conditions.
Thankfully, there are few crews more reliable and acute to the characteristics of this challenging event and the pairing were able to minimise any potential time loss – maintaining a strong 40 second cushion between themselves and their nearest championship rival, Mads Østberg.
It was a dramatic morning for Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt. The pairing were continuing to monitor their progress – driving without risk and gaining experience – before a stray branch gave them some drama towards the end of Nambucca I (SS9).
The branch pierced the radiator core of his Fiesta RS WRC and the Welshman had to put his mechanical ability to the test as he affected a successful repair on the liaison to the following stage (SS10).
As the M-Sport technicians fitted a new radiator for the second loop, the youngster was eager to make amends. Unfortunately his fate went the same way as team mate Hirvonen and, having opted for five soft compounds, Evans struggled with a lack of grip on the dry stages.
Making it through to fight another day, M-Sport’s protégé remains on course to secure another points finish on his debut at the FIA World Rally Championship’s highest league.
Mikko Hirvonen (4th) said:
“It didn’t rain and, as we took the soft tyre, we were expecting it to. The tyres were completely gone and it was really tricky. We just had to do all we could not to lose too much time to the boys behind and in that respect I think we did really well. There’s still a big gap to Mads [Østberg], and one day to go with some more difficult stages, so let’s see what happens.”
Elfyn Evans (9th) said:
“We made the wrong choice with the tyres this afternoon. We were expecting rain, but unfortunately that didn’t happen and it was a case of trying to manage the situation. When you’re in a stage like that it is very difficult to know how hard to push. At the end of the stage the time wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a disaster either so I think we have to be happy with that given the circumstances.We’ve had a second loop of checking the notes again and we’re pretty pleased with those now; so it’s been a productive day in that sense and should see us well placed for the future.”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s a shame that Mikko [Hirvonen] lost ground this afternoon as we didn’t get the rain on the stages that had been predicted. Thankfully, he was able to limit the time loss and, with another difficult day to come, remains in a strong position to challenge for a top position. Elfyn [Evans] was unlucky when he damaged the radiator this morning, but thanks to his mechanical skills he was able to make it safely back to service and finish the day with some very encouraging times in the Super Special Stages.”